If you've ever used a cigarette lighter or poured a liquid on the charcoal for your grill to speed up the ignition, you've come in contact with butane. However, one question often arises when discussing butane is whether it is flammable and just how flammable it is.
In this article, we will explore the topic of "Is butane flammable?" and provide a deeper understanding of this hydrocarbon's properties, uses, and safe handling.
Is Butane Flammable?
The answer is yes. Butane is highly flammable and even explosive. When a substance is described as flammable, it should ignite easily with contact with naked fire. The National Fire Protection Association(NFPA) classifies flammable substances as substances possessing flash points below 100°F, and the flash point of butane is -76°F.
What Is Butane?
Butane is a fossil fuel that’s created from buried plants and animals. It is abundant in nature. This natural gas is a colorless and odorless hydrocarbon at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.
Butane is a light hydrocarbon gas that is easily liquefied for fuel that quickly evaporates at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. This fuel is one of the components of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is a combination of flammable gases, including propane, butylene, and propylene.
Uses Of Butane
Since butane is a clean-burning fuel with low carbon content, it releases fewer emissions. As a result, it is often a preferred fuel over other fuels like gasoline, kerosene, and diesel.
In addition, it's combined with other hydrocarbon gases like propane and then liquified to form LPG, which is used as a refrigerant and a medium to create petrochemicals. Sometimes it’s pressurized and put in canisters for camp stoves.
Butane doesn't attack plastic, so it's used to manufacture plastic lighters. First, the gas is pressurized and put into the plastic as a liquid. Then, when the valves open, it turns into a gas that ignites in the presence of oxygen and sparks from the spark wheel.
Butane is also pressurized into aerosol spray cans to act as a propellant, replacing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer and harm the environment. It is commonly used as a solvent for coating, degreasing, cleaning, and painting, amongst others.
How Often Can Butane Catch Fire?
Butane catches fire very often; it is highly flammable, which is why it's used as fuel. This leads to the question: Why is butane so flammable? This is due to its low flash point (-76°F). This flash point is the minimum temperature needed for liquid butane to turn to gas in the presence of air to become easily ignited.
It will catch fire if it comes in contact with a spark or a naked flame. However, its auto-ignition temperature is very high (760°F), so it's unlikely to ignite spontaneously. Nevertheless, since most households use butane, it’s crucial that people know to ensure heat or ignition sources are kept far away from butane.
Is Butane Dangerous?
The answer is yes. Although butane is environmentally friendly and non-toxic, it's a fire and health hazard. And while butane is colorless with little to no odor, inhalation of butane gas in high quantities can cause drowsiness, dizziness, headache, and asphyxia or suffocation.
Also, the pressurized liquid form of butane can cause frostbite or freeze-burn when in contact with the skin. When liquid butane is poured on a direct fire, it burns, and poisonous gases are released. The cans containing butane are also explosive. Butane is heavier than air and can travel to an ignition source, so you must appropriately manage all leaks.
How To Put Out A Fire From Butane
With a flammable substance like butane, a fire accident is always a concern, and knowing how to handle a fire in this situation is essential.
It's important to note that a fire from butane is classified as a Class B fire (involving flammable liquid and gases), and you must not put this fire out with water as it might spread the burning substance to other vulnerable locations.
First, evacuate people from the accident area and try locating and stopping the gas flow. The extinguishers suitable for this fire are dry chemicals, foams, carbon dioxide (to remove oxygen supply), and halon. There are six classes of fire extinguishers which correspond with the six classes of fires. They are:
- Class A – water, dry chemical, foam, and wet chemical
- Class B – dry chemical powder, foam, water mist, and carbon dioxide
- Class C – dry chemical powder and water mist
- Class D – dry chemical powder and carbon dioxide
- Class E – dry chemical powder and carbon dioxide
- Class F – wet chemical.
Since this is a Class B fire, a Class B extinguisher would suffice. Water spray can be used if it's only vapor and there's been no ignition. It can also be used to cool heated surfaces that may act as re-ignition sources.
Most gas fires shouldn't be extinguished and should be allowed to burn out after the gas flow is cut off. This is because of the possibility of re-accumulation and re-igniting of gas. The firefighters usually do this, and so after evacuation, your first call is to contact the nearest fire station to report the gas fire.
Safety Precautions For Handling Butane
Take these steps to ensure your safety as well as anyone else working with butane.
Store Your Butane Properly
Butane should be stored away from sunlight, static electricity, sparks, and open fireplaces. In addition, you should store it far away from electrical outlets and living rooms, especially away from children and pets that can fiddle with the regulators.
Refrain from attempting to puncture cylinders or transferring the pressurized liquid butane from one container to another. Ensure containers are closed, well-labeled, and stored in cool and well-ventilated areas. Don't use sparking agents to open or seal butane containers.
Keep Your Butane Away From Open Flames Or Fire
Butane is a fuel; therefore, it will be in contact with fire, but usually in a controlled environment with a gas regulator that measures the supply. However, it would be best not to store gas cylinders or containers close to open fires or throw them into a fire because butane is explosive.
Don't Experiment With Butane
Avoid manipulation or modification of the regulators or appliances. Use only approved containers and canisters for storage, and only trained personnel should dispense butane. Avoid welding empty containers, as they usually still contain explosive vapors.
Ensure Proper Disposal
Refrain from throwing cylinders or canisters out with your regular garbage. You can take it back to your retailer, as most accept the canisters and recycle them on their customers' behalf.
If your gas can is intact with no signs of leakage or damage and is less than 25 gallons, you can drop it off at the local hazardous waste recycling center. Otherwise, it would be best to take it to hazardous waste disposal.
It is clear that butane is a highly flammable gas, and this can be deduced even from its uses. However, "Is butane flammable?" is a question that you should have an answer to before handling this powerful and potentially dangerous substance.
Therefore, if you are using butane, follow proper safety guidelines and take all necessary precautions to ensure your safety.